Women of the decade

Who rocked this decade? The Stylist team picks 15 remarkable women

Posted by for People

From groundbreaking activism to breaking the norms in media and winning gold at the Olympics, these are the women who inspired us the most over the last decade. 

To call this last decade “turbulent” would be an understatement. From the joy of watching the London Olympics 2012 winners take home gold medals, to the constant migraine that is Brexit, it’s been a rollercoaster of serious highs and lows. 

Remarkable women have led the #MeToo movement, the fight against climate change and the battle for our reproductive rights. They are the women who have inspired change and made it happen. As we step into a new decade, we know they are only going to continue fighting the good fights. 

With this in mind, Stylist team members have chosen their women of the decade. Although we could create a seemingly endless list of the incredible females who have shone since 2010, these are just a small selection of the women we’re celebrating.

  • Malala Yousafzai

    Malala Yousafzai
    Malala Yousafzai

    Kayleigh, digital editor:

    “Malala – and her story – is famous all around the world. In 2012, when she was just 14 years old, she was shot in the head by the Taliban because she’d dared to campaign for the right of girls to receive an education. Malala, however, refused to be silenced or cowed by her experiences.

    Nowadays, she is a prominent activist, a powerful public speaker, the subject of films and books, the founder of the non-profit Malala Fund and a Nobel Peace Prize winner. She was the United Nations’ youngest-ever Messenger of Peace. Oh, and she’s studying Philosophy at Oxford University, too.

    As if all that weren’t enough, Malala – who continues to fight on behalf of the 130 million girls who are out of school around the world – has been using her position in the global spotlight to give a voice to other young women and refugees.

    Of course Malala is my woman of the decade. Of course she is. How could she not be? And I hope her wisdom and influence will be felt for many decades to come, too.”

  • Michelle Obama

    Michelle Obama.
    Michelle Obama.

    Megan Murray, digital writer:

    “Although Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming, was published in late 2018, it took me mid-this year until I got around to reading it. But my god was it worth the wait. Learning more about her upbringing, how SHE was actually Barrack’s mentor when they first met, how she dealt the impending impact of her husband’s political career on her family and even the dignity and resolution she showed when Trump was elected (after trying to convince the American public that Barrack was an extremist, putting the Obamas in danger and something she’s never forgiven him for) – her grace and good heart inspired me. 

    “From leaking her own very down-to-earth texts to her mum, speaking about the need for white communities to welcome immigrant families and her thoughts on imposter syndrome – she continues to make herself vulnerable while staying strong for the minority voices that need her to speak out on their behalf.”

  • Tarana Burke

    Tarana Burke
    Tarana Burke

    Moya, contributing women’s editor:

    “The #MeToo movement is one of the most significant social shifts to happen in my lifetime. Two years since the hashtag went viral, the work of tackling sexual misconduct isn’t over - but I feel a profound, passionate sense of gratitude for the fact that it’s begun.

    “And I am so thankful for Tarana Burke, the woman who started the #MeToo movement in 2006 and became one of the world’s most famous gender equality activists towards the tail-end of this decade. As #MeToo took on a life of its own, Burke was – and continues to be – gracious, focused, thoughtful and fierce, refusing to centre herself in the movement while also fighting to ensure that the misconduct faced by the most vulnerable women in society is not overshadowed by the experiences of celebrities. A true hero.”

  • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

    Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
    Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

    Nicole, video director/producer: 

    Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is such a breath of fresh air in politics. When she was elected I felt genuine hope for politics in the US and UK. Hearing her stand up for the ordinary person, and challenge the status quo, you can’t help but be inspired.”

  • Taylor Swift

    Taylor Swift performed The Man at the VMAs in a very political performance.
    Taylor Swift.

    Lauren, junior digital writer:

    Taylor Swift is my woman of the decade for a whole host of reasons. Besides the fact that she’s released five (incredible) albums, won over 100 awards and done some pretty incredible performances, she’s also championed LGBTQ+ rights, bravely spoken out against the powerful men threatening her career and stood up for survivors of sexual assault in her symbolic $1 win over a DJ who groped her in 2017. All in all, she’s a bit of a legend – and after ten years in the spotlight, she continues to shine.”

  • Jessica Ennis-Hill

    Jessica Ennis-Hill.
    Jessica Ennis-Hill.

    Chloe, editorial assistant:

    “I’ve never been what you might call sporty. In fact, I had no interest in watching or engaging in any of it. But then 2012 London Olympics happened. On Super Saturday, Mo Farah, Greg Rutherford and other athletes took gold. But it was Jessica Ennis, Britain’s heptathlete, who really got us all talking. 

    “Watching such a powerful woman run, jump and throw her way to the platform was amazing, because I don’t think I’d really ever seen a woman who seemed so normal do something so powerful. I’d also never seen a woman have so much self-belief. There was no doubt on her face that she could win gold, and she did it. 

    “Two years later I went to university in Sheffield, where Team Ennis was based, and every time I walked past her winners gold post box it felt like a little reminder to not let my ambition and determination slip. You still might not call me sporty now, but being strong, both physically and mentally, is really important to me, probably thanks to Jess.”     

  • Phoebe Waller-Bridge

    Phoebe Waller-Bridge
    Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

    Helen, entertainment director:

    “Although PWB (as only I call her) only came into our collective consciousness’ three years ago, it’s already impossible to imagine the cultural landscape without her.

    “Fearless and frank her impact on TV has been transformative. Fleabag is a show like we have never seen before, showing that women are fallible, sexual, messy… The sitcom confronts truths and desires that are never usually expressed publicly. While Killing Eve was the most brilliant, contemporary and subversive drama – which also gave a springboard to the utterly excellent Jodie Comer.

    “Now PWB is one of the most important – and, crucially, listened to – voices we have both here and in the States. This year she has appeared on the cover of US Vogue, hosted Saturday Night Live and contributed to the script of the ultimate cinematic institution No Time to Die the 25th Bond film.

    “Also, and I’m only just realising this, she is only 34. She has already achieved all this and you get the sense she’s only just getting started. What will she do in the next decade? Without putting too much pressure on her – because she might just want a little rest – I cannot wait to find out.”

  • Gina Miller

    Gina Miller
    Gina Miller.

    Felicity, executive digital editor:

    Gina Miller is my stand-out woman of the decade. Regardless of your stance on Brexit, there should be no doubt in your mind that Miller is a woman who fights for what she believes in. She’s taught me that sticking your head above the parapet is probably going to be scary and intimidating but if it’s a cause you really believe in, it’s worth it. Stand up, fight and shout.”

  • Lena Dunham

    Lena Dunham
    Lena Dunham.

    Tom, photography & specials director:

    “I LOVE Lena Dunham. Post-Sex And The City it was refreshing (“SHOCKING” if you’re the Daily Mail) to see ‘real people who looked like you’ having sex or sitting on the toilet or taking drugs on telly. Without Girls there would be no Fleabag. I genuinely think she changed TV for good.

    “Lena Dunham is human and I think as people we often forget that about famous people. People make mistakes; she just made those mistakes in front of THE WORLD including the whole of the internet and she openly admits that she learns from them and isn’t perfect.”

  • Jess Phillips

    Jess Phillips.
    Jess Phillips.

    Hollie Richardson, digital writer:

    “At the start of the decade, I cast my first vote in the general election. I didn’t get the outcome I voted for, but it did make me realise – for the first time in my life – that I have a say in the world I live in. Since then, I’ve had mixed moments of total apathy, hopeful excitement and pure anger. If I’m completely honest, the whole Brexit fiasco drained me. But then I found hope again in MP Jess Phillips

    “In 2018, Phillips stood up and silenced Westminster by reading out the 120 names of women murdered by domestic abuse. She continued to push for the Domestic Abuse Bill amidst the Brexit storm. She also has a razor-sharp wit, constantly calling out the problem of “posh” privilege in parliament. And she is never afraid to use her voice to stand up for what she believes in, even when it means being at the receiving end of violent threats and verbal abuse.

    “She embodies what I now so deeply believe in: that women from all backgrounds have a right to be exactly where they are, using their voices to express their opinions and make real change happen.”

  • Jacinda Ardern

    Jacinda Ardern
    At 37, Ardern became New Zealand's youngest head of state since Edward Stafford.

    Alessia Armenise, picture editor:

    “I think Jacinda Ardern has been my favourite woman of 2019 and I feel she is unfairly overlooked. Not only has she normalised being pregnant and giving birth while in a very important job (and nailing it), she also showed that things that don’t work can be changed, quickly and efficiently, like she did when she banned guns in New Zealand in less than a week after Christchurch mass shooting in March.”

  • Rose McGowan

    Rose McGowan.
    Rose McGowan.

    Charlotte, video production manager:

    “I am going to say Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd for speaking up against Harvey Weinstein and getting the ball rolling on fighting the fact that it’s been acceptable to abuse women for so long by inspiring the #Metoo movement.”

  • Mindy Kaling

    Mindy Kaling.
    Mindy Kaling.

    Hanna, beauty writer:

    “Yes, Mindy Kaling saw huge success in the 00s with The Office, but it wasn’t until The Mindy Project debuted in 2012 that I learned about her. It was incredible to see an Indian woman not only step into the main role of a major TV show, but also be the brains behind the hilarious script and clever production. That show was the first time I saw a piece of myself in another actor on screen and it felt incredible. Over the years, she’s gone on to star in a wide range of movies, including Inside Out, A Wrinkle in Time and Ocean’s 8, cementing her place among other Hollywood greats.

    “In the last decade, she’s also written two books. Her first, a memoir titled Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) details her upbringing as a child of immigrants, when she first discovered comedy, interning for Late Night with Conan O’Brien and how, at the age of 24, she became the only woman on a staff of eight to work as a writer-performer on The Office. In her second book, Why Not Me?, she talks openly about everything from believing you belong in Hollywood even when nobody looks like you, to meeting Bradley Cooper.

    “She has a way of delivering home truths in an eye-opening yet hilarious way and I truly believe she has changed the comedy scene forever. And in doing so, she’s paved the way for so many other women, too.”

  • Chanel Miller

    Chanel Miller
    Chanel Miller:

    Eve, intern:

    “You might not know her name (she only revealed her identity earlier this year in a powerful victim statement that went viral), but you know her story: in 2015, under the pseudonym Emily Doe, Chanel Miller made global headlines as a result of the heavily-publicised sexual assault trial against Brock Turner, who raped her while she lay unconscious on the street.

    “Her story is a deeply sad one, a brilliant young woman let down by the US judicial system which sought to protect a rapist (who happened to be a good swimmer as if that makes a difference?) instead of her, the victim of a callous and senseless sexual assault. These excruciating double-standards speak to a much bigger problem in how survivors of sexual and physical violence continue to be treated.

    “Nearly five years later, she’s reclaiming her name as well as her story in her painful memoir Know My Name. As she writes, ‘The barricades that held us down will not work anymore. And when silence and shame are gone, there will be nothing to stop us.’”

  • Greta Thunberg

    Greta Thunberg
    Greta Thunberg.

    Lisa Smosarski, editor-in-chief:

    “It’s crazy to think that two years ago we didn’t even know Greta Thunberg’s name. Now that name is synonymous with the mission to save our planet. Not bad for a girl from Sweden who first started making headlines at the age of 16.

    “Since launching her one-teenager protest, Greta has proven that no one is too small to make a difference. She’s been named Time’s Person of the Year, nominated for the Nobel Prize, awarded the Ambassador of Conscience Award by Amnesty International and has been presented with the International Children’s Peace Prize of 2019 by Desmond Tutu. She has sailed a zero-carbon yacht across the Atlantic to New York. She’s met with world leaders, spoken at the UN, and attended the Climate Action Summit. She’s dismissed the most powerful people on the planet for climate change denial (hello Donald Trump) and worked tirelessly to raise awareness about the climate crisis – and it’s working, too: the ‘Greta Thunberg effect’ has driven huge increases in individuals and businesses choosing to offset their emissions by investing in carbon-reducing projects in developing countries. And she’s managed to get the whole world striking and talking urgently about our role in saving our planet. There is no other person in history who has managed to galvanise the entire planet on a singular activism mission.

    “In less than two years, Greta has become one of the defining voices of the 2010s. And I’ve no doubt that she’ll be the defining voice for the next decade too.”

Remarkable Women
Remarkable Women Awards 2020

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…

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